1534: Barthélemi Milon, for the Affair of the Placards 1539: Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury

1726: The Gypsy outlaws of Hesse-Darmstadt

November 14th, 2009 Headsman

On November 14 and 15, 1726, more than 20 Gypsy outlaws of Hesse-Darmstadt were executed en masse.

Detail view (click for full image) of the execution of the Gypsies at Giessen.

Gypsies in Europe still suffer ample discrimination today, so it’s little surprise to find early modern Europe thick with anti-Gypsy legislation.

No surprise, Angus Fraser writes in The Gypsies, this sort of thing

did in the end produce enormous changes in the life of the Gypsies in Europe. To survive, they had to adapt; they also had to make the most of the loopholes in a system which expressly sought, by denying them food and shelter, to make honest living impossible. Some found a degree of security in inaccessible waste-lands and forests. Some exploited differences in jurisdiction and the spasmodic nature of the authorities’ activity, by making a home in frontier regions … Many broke up into small groups when it was necessary to avoid attention; conversely, others gathered into larger bands to facilitate self-protection … sometimes resorting to violence. Certain Gypsy brigands gained notoriety in eighteenth-century Germany, large tracts of which were overrun with robber companies of mixed and varying origins. Some of these had a strong Gypsy element: numbering perhaps 50 or 100, armed and defiant, they stole for their sustenance and skirmished with the soldier-police sent to confine them.

“The poor Gypsies,” one poor Gypsy lamented to a contemporary German author,* “also want to have the right to live.”

Like the Gypsies’ other necessities, that right went as far as they themselves could secure it … and when secured by brigandage, it eventually brought down an overwhelming response.

The German author in question, J.B. Weissenbruch, relates the tale of a particularly notorious pack of Gypsy outlaws under the leadership of rough characters names of Antoine la Grave, aka “der Grosse Galantho” or “the Great Gallant”, and Johannes la Fortun, aka “Hemperla”.

These were no romantic Johnny Depp-esque Gypsies, at least according to Weissenbruch. Besides “their disposition to wandering, to idleness, to theft, to polygamy, or rather promiscuous license” — well, okay, sort of romantic — these went toe to toe with soldiery dispatched to corral them and had the chops to “take military possession” of a village for the purpose of exacting some corporal revenge.

We know where this ends up.

Though the Great Gallant escaped punishment,† Hemperla and 20-plus of his band (different sources quote slightly different figures) enjoyed the pleasures of the thumbscrew and the Spanish boot to secure confessions necessary to license their sentences. Some were hanged, others (including women) beheaded, and Hemperla and a few comrades were broken on the wheel.

* Cited here; regrettably, I have not been able to locate a browsable original of the Weissenbruch text.

** Same story in yet another Google books freebie.

This German book says his rank got him off the hook, but he lost his head just the same in 1733.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,Gruesome Methods,Hanged,History,Holy Roman Empire,Mass Executions,Outlaws,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft,Torture,Women

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